Sikhs celebrate Kartarpur corridor on newfound hope of easy pilgrimage
Pakistan PM Imran Khan assures Sikh community that facilities at Kartarpur will be better for 550th birth celebrations for Guru Nanak Dev.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday laid the foundation stone of Kartarpur corridor, which would facilitate Indian Sikh pilgrims in visiting the 16th-century Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.
The gurdwara, on the banks of Ravi river, has historical significance for Sikhs as Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, spent 18 years there. Established by the first Sikh Guru in 1522, the shrine is about three-four km from the international border.
The opening of a corridor was a long-pending demand of the Sikh community.
The decision to build the corridor — from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border — was taken by the Union Cabinet on November 22. Pakistan is to build it on its side of the border and it has planned a ground-breaking ceremony for Wednesday.
The proposal to open the cross-border passage for Sikh pilgrims comes at a time when India-Pakistan ties have nosedived and all bilateral engagements postponed following a number of terror attacks by Pakistan-based groups since 2016, including on Pathankot Air Force Station.
On November 18 this year, two men on a motorbike hurled a hand grenade on a religious congregation in Amritsar, which killed three people and injured more than 20. The Punjab chief minister has blamed Pakistan's spy agency ISI for the attack.
Naidu and Singh laid the foundation stone digitally by pressing a button at the ceremony in Mann village near the India-Pakistan border in Gurdaspur district.
Singh suggested there should be no visa requirement for pilgrims travelling via the corridor to the historic gurdwara in Pakistan.
While he has declined to visit Pakistan as of now due to its support to terrorist groups, Singh said he will accompany the first 'jatha' to Kartarpur via the corridor next year.
He announced that his government has decided to construct a grand Kartarpur Gate near the border and said it would stand tall as a symbol to commemorate the 550th 'Prakash Purb' (birth anniversary) of Guru Nanak Dev.
He urged Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, who was present at the event, to ensure that the corridor becomes operational by the next Gurpurab.
Gadkari assured Singh that his ministry would try to complete the construction work of the corridor expeditiously.
"I will try to complete the work on this corridor within four to four-and-a-half months," he said.
He said the Union government plans to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary year of Guru Nanak Dev in a grand manner, adding the SGPC has been made the knowledge partner for various events which will be organised through the year.
The Union minister also enumerated other initiatives of the Centre to mark the 550th birth anniversary year of the Sikh Guru which included the development of the historic town of Sultanpur Lodhi as a heritage town.
Vice President Naidu said the corridor will be a bridge between the two peoples who have so much in common.
"This is a corridor that opens new doors. It is a path that opens up new possibilities. It is a unifier, building bridges across old chasms," he said.
Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore also attended the event. He, along with Naidu and Chief Minister Singh, planted saplings to mark the state government's ambition to plant 550 saplings to mark the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh Guru.
Singh said the opening of the corridor would lead to the development of the historical town of Dera Baba Nanak. He also thanked the national governments in India and Pakistan for deciding to build the corridor.
In a series of tweets, Union minister Arun Jaitley said: "this day will be cherished in times to come when pilgrims will regularly visit the holy shrine across the international border hassle free".
He said Dera Baba Nanak Sahib and Kartarpur Sahib are twin pilgrimage places associated with Sri Guru Nanak Devji.
"At Kartarpur Sahib he lived preaching for 18 years and the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib is built in his commemoration," he tweeted.
Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Hardeep Singh Puri, Vijay Sampla, Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore, Cabinet Ministers Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Charanjit Singh Channi, Aruna Chaudhary were also present at the event.
The ceremony also had its share of controversy, when a state minister and local legislator objected to the names of former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal engraved on the foundation stone.
"It is not a political function. It is a government function, and I told them their (Badals) names should not be there," the minister, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, said.
After the protest, that foundation stone was replaced.
Visuals of the foundation stone on the screen, when it was being laid digitally, carried the names of the vice president, the Punjab governor, the chief minister and the Union highways minister.
(With inputs from agencies.)